3 former staffers at Avon Park youth facility arrested on child abuse charges

Norma Wynn, and Johnny Hart and Jose Sanchez.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Three former staff members at an Avon Park youth facility have been arrested following a lengthy investigation into a riot, child abuse and evidence tampering at the facility.

The three former staff members of Highlands Youth Academy  –Norma Wynn, 56, of Sebring, Jose Sanchez, 63, of Sebring, and Johnny Hart, 40, of Okaloosa County–  were arrested on Thursday in Highlands and Okaloosa Counties, where they live.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives determined that all three of those arrested intentionally destroyed or tampered with evidence, failed to report child abuse, and willfully neglected juveniles under their care.

The Highlands Youth Academy (HYA) is a Department of Juvenile Justice non-secure residential commitment program located in unincorporated Polk County near Avon Park, Florida.

DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly issued the following statement:

“Since the Polk County Jury Report in 2015, we have taken significant steps to improve this facility. This includes the installation of security cameras, increased staff-to-youth ratios, and investments of $2 million in facility improvements. Any assertion that DJJ has not worked to improve this facilities’ operations and services is false. We are 100% committed to youth safety and will hold anyone accountable who is not. We have not, do not, and will not tolerate staff who endanger the safety and well-being of youth placed in our care. 

None of the people arrested currently work at G4S or are affiliated with DJJ in anyway. Upon learning of contracted provider staff Johnny Hart’s arrest, he was immediately placed on administrative leave and his employment was swiftly terminated. Ms. Wynn and Mr. Sanchez are no longer employed at any of DJJ’s programs or facilities. We take every allegation of misconduct at our contracted programs very seriously and DJJ’s Inspector General’s Office is actively investigating the allegations at Highlands Youth Academy. We appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement partners to investigate incidents at Highlands Youth Academy and will work with them to bring a resolution to this matter.

DJJ has also worked with all of our contracted providers, including G4S, to improve hiring practices through a statewide initiative.” 

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